I’ve had a lot of help from friends and family recently, from having help with my latest book, to having supportive and encouraging conversations, to having help with moving house.
Earlier this morning, I found myself smiling as I reflected on how grateful I am for having these people in my life. As I reflected while sipping my coffee and looking from the conservatory of my new home out at the beautiful view of the surrounding hills and Stirling castle, my mind drifted towards some of the research around friends and family and the health benefits they bring.
So I decided to share some of this with you. Here’s 4 reasons why having friends is healthy.
1) Friends help us live longer, healthier lives
Social contact is one of the strongest predictors of a long life. Research shows that when we analyse the factors – diet, exercise, etc – that are most important in ensuring a long and healthy life, regular social contact comes up time and time again as one of the most important.
In 2010, for instance, researchers at Brigham Young University published their analysis of 148 studies involving 308,849 people of an average age of 63.9 years. These studies looked at the relationship between social relationships and mortality risk. Measuring a period of 7.5 years, they found that people who enjoyed strong social ties had a 50% increased likelihood of survival over this time compared with people with weak or no social ties.
2) Friends help to counter stress
Friends support us through the hard times. They act as buffers to lessen the burden of our personal challenges. Having someone to talk to helps release some of the pent up pain we frequently carry. Friends can be our release-valves.
As the old saying goes, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”
3) Friends improve our happiness
Harvard researchers studied a social network of over 12,000 people and found that the people who were the most ‘connected’ were the happiest. In other words, people who have more social contact tend to be happier.
As well as buffering some of the stress of hard times, friends help us enjoy the everyday moments more and help provide some of the special moments, thereby improving happiness.
4) Friends protect you from heart disease
During a census in the 1960s scientists discovered that the death rate from heart disease of people aged 55-64 was almost zero in the US town of Roseto, and for people over that age it was almost half the national average. No one under the age of 50 had died of heart disease at all. This was vastly different from the rest of the country.
The reason, it turned out, was that they had each other. Residents of Roseto were more ‘connected’ and enjoyed more social contact than people living in most typical towns and cities. It’s known as the Roseto Effect.
Social contact increases levels of the hormone ‘oxytocin’ which, as well as its known roles in breast feeding, digestion, and childbirth, is also a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone (protects the cardiovascular system). Research shows that it lowers blood pressure and also helps reduce levels of some of the chemicals involved in heart disease.
OK, a few people might point out that they know someone who has lots of good relationships but also had a heart attack. As we know, there are many other factors that play a role in heart health – including diet, exercise, and stress – but having good quality relationships goes some way to counteracting the effects.
So if you’re looking for ways to find friends, one I’d personally recommend is to get a dog. After we got Oscar in October last year, we started to meet lots of dog owners in the park in the morning, some of whom have become very good friends.
You can also meet new people by taking an evening class, or going to yoga, the gym, volunteering for a charity, or even by going to dance classes.
You can also increase ‘contact’ by striking up conversations with postal workers, shop assistants, or by doing regular acts of kindness.
So if you’re considering some lifestyle changes because you want to be healthier, don’t forget the importance of good quality relationships.
As I once heard Patch Adams say (he’s the doctor featured in the movie whose role was played by the late, Robin Williams), “If you want to be healthy, get good at friends!”
You might find a couple of my related books of some interest:
I covered the social network research, as well as how emotions and contagious from one person to the next, in my book, ‘The Contagious Power of Thinking‘ (Hay House, 2011). Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com Amazon.com.au Amazon.ca